William Fox-Pitt declared that the “battle is on” after he moved into second place at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The former world number one posted a dressage score of 39.0 with Chilli Morning to tuck in just behind Andrew Nicholson (Nereo) and narrowly ahead of Oliver Townend (Armada).
A couple of mistakes in the changes cost Fox-Pitt a better score, but he is firmly in the shake-up for a possible first Badminton title since 2004, when he triumphed aboard Tamarillo.
“It was frustrating to have a couple of mistakes in the changes – you can’t afford to do that here,” Fox-Pitt said.
“He is a horse that is very solid in his changes, so it was just one of those things. What can we say? They are not machines.
“He did some lovely work out there. I am very happy with how he was overall. He is feeling fantastic, it just wasn’t faultless today.
“It’s his first time here. He is normally very relaxed – maybe after the World Equestrian Games he was feeling a lit bit more nervous than normal – but he has been half asleep all week. It was a bad time for him to wake up, I would say.
“He has been doing this test as long as Armada. It hasn’t changed for goodness knows how many years, and they know what’s coming, don’t they?
“It was annoying he chose the arena to do his first break this week, but everyone is very close (on the leaderboard), and the battle is on.”
And assessing Saturday’s cross-country challenge, Fox-Pitt said: “I think the course is a little bit different to last year.
“It has maybe lost a few of the real challenges, the real Badminton features, but there is plenty to jump. We shouldn’t underestimate it.”